Archive for the ‘Ebooks’ Category

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Visualizing Comics on the iPad

January 27, 2010

Steve Jobs didn’t specifically talk about comics and other visually-intensive ebooks on the iPad, but it does fix many of the graphics and usability issues that severely limited the comics-reading utility of the monochrome e-readers and bulky tablet PCs that came before.

With its large color screen, slim form factor and long battery life, it may well be the reading device that comics fans have been waiting for.

While we await the iPad’s arrival, I wanted to visualize just how the iPad might work as a comics-reading machine. I fired up Photoshop and plugged in a couple of screens from the Witchblade books on WOWIO. What do you think?

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Sony Readers, Library Software for Mac — Soon

July 7, 2009

Mac and Sony Reader — Flying BooksIf you’re a Mac user using a Sony Reader, you’ve been compelled to use various workarounds to get content onto your device. While the third-party software allows the addition of ebooks from other sources, Sony’s own ebook store can only be accessed using the official Windows-based eBook Library software.

With surging Mac mind (and market) share — along with competition from cross-platform ebook readers like the Kindle — it looks like Sony is finally going to provide official Mac support by “the end of Summer 2009” (see the announcement reproduced below). The original PRS500 Reader is conspicuously absent from the announcement — perhaps it’s unsupported but still compatible as a discontinued model?

Sony Announcement, July 7, 2009

Attention Mac users!

We’ve received many requests to make the eBook Store work with Apple® Macintosh® computers, and we wanted to share with you our progress on this front.

An updated version of the eBook Library Software compatible with Mac OS X operating systems will be available by the end of Summer 2009 for download to your computer to enable you to purchase, organize and download content to your PRS505 and PRS700.

Send us your email address, and we will notify you when the update is available.

Thank you,

Your Friends at The eBook Store

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iPhone + Ebooks: Partial Solutions, July Dreams

March 31, 2008

With the recent beta release of the iPhone SDK and the corresponding system software update due in July, reading ebooks on the iPhone (and iTouch) will finally become a straightforward, typically Apple experience. A PDF reader should appear particularly quickly given that the format is native on the iPhone’s flavor of OS X, just as it is with its cousin, the Mac. The other piece of the puzzle — local file handling and storage — will undoubtedly be high on developers’ lists.

When July and its expected tidal wave of iPhone apps arrive, our book reading problems should be solved.

Readdle logoIn the meantime, though, the options for reading available today have evolved quite a bit since I last surveyed the scene. For example, the web app Readdle has been around since last summer, providing free hosting space for files up to 5MB — 50 MB total — for non-DRM PDF (like ebooks from WOWIO) and other files including doc, fb2, gif, html, jpeg, rtf, txt, xls and pdb. Uploading an ebook or other document to this private, password-protected space allows you to read it anywhere with Internet access.

Readdle screen shots
Navigating Readdle.

Other nice features include a Mac app to simplify uploads (though the web interface and email interfaces are fine too), user-definable categories for organizing files and an option for creating a Safari bookmark for offline reading. Unfortunately, the latter is limited to very small files less than 100kb, limiting its usefulness.

As you can see from the screenshots, the web app works well and as advertised. The iPhone-friendly interface is clean and nicely implemented. My books, like Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, are easily accessed, along with a small collection of public domain titles provided by Readdle.

The only major limitations — and they’re significant ones — are the file size limit and lack of bookmarking for PDFs. 5MB per file is a bit skimpy for larger PDFs, particularly graphics-laden titles like comics or visually-oriented nonfiction, along with text titles built from scanned pages. This is an understandable limit, however, given Safari’s tendency to crash when opening files above 8MB. I suspect Readdle is being conservative to maintain a stable user experience. Bookmarking is another longstanding issue, and one that’s common to all available PDF reading solutions on the iPhone. Readdle does provide bookmarking for books in html, txt, rtf and pdb formats, but the nature of PDF makes this impossible to do from a web browser.

To resolve these limitations shared by Readdle and every other Mobile Safari-based reading solution, we’re once again left waiting for the solutions that are likely to arrive in July. Soon, soon…

iPhone book page

A page from Oh Pure and Radiant Heart on the iPhone via Safari and Readdle.

Related Posts

iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions
iPhone and eBooks: an Early Flirtation
iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard
iPhone + Comics: (Not) Seeing the Big Picture
iPhones and eBooks: The Video

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It’s the Thought that Counts? Gifting in a Virtual World

January 30, 2008

As social networking has become a fixture in our lives, it’s only natural that the personal exchanges that occur in our offline lives — like gifting — are migrating to the virtual realm, too. I’ve looked on with some curiosity as the concept of virtual gifting has taken hold in Facebook and other venues. Can gifts that exist purely in digital form really take the place of tangible, physical presents?

On Facebook, gifts often take the form of graphical tokens that are sold for a small cost (typically $1) and are displayed on the recipient’s profile. They have no functionality beyond the symbolic — their value comes from being tokens of good will or affection, along with being the virtual approximation of a very visible display of flowers delivered at the office.

facebook gifts

Virtual gifting in Facebook.

So are people really buying these things?

I’ve personally sent some of the freebie versions of the Facebook gifts in the past year. Apparently, I believed that these tokens had some value both to the recipient and to me since I went to the trouble of sending them. On the other hand, I was never convinced enough to actually spend real money. By some estimates, however, Facebook is currently selling them at a rate of about 270,000 gifts per week — equivalent to $15 million in revenue, annually. Clearly, a lot of people are not like me — for them, the nominal monetary cost is outweighed by the convenience and symbolic value.

At WOWIO, we’ve been thinking about this phenomenon and considering it against the more traditional venues for gift giving, such as greeting cards and physical objects like books. WOWIO’s ebooks straddle the line between virtual and physical — as digital files, they’re clearly in the virtual realm, but as a medium for ideas and communication, they’re not so different from their paper counterparts. Further, the ebook’s written content has a powerful inherent symbolism that can go far beyond the purely visual representations of Facebook-style tokens.

Given this natural fit, we developed a new feature at the WOWIO site that allows registered users to gift ebooks in just this way. In sending my own ebook gifts, the process is remarkably familiar — it’s not unlike shopping for a paper-based gift book. I find a title that fits with the purpose of the gift and resonates with my relationship with the recipient, virtually wrap it in a decorated dust jacket appropriate to the occasion, and write a note on the ebook’s inside cover. The big difference is in the immediacy and relatively low cost of the gift. Delivery is as instantaneous as the Internet can make it, while the pricing ($3–5) makes it much more of an impulse gift, like Facebook’s tokens.

personalized ebook

Gifting a WOWIO ebook.

It will be fascinating to see how this fares in the coming months. If any of you are using (or even just thinking about using) this feature, I’d love to hear how you are using it and what you think of the process.

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Travel and eBooks: A Jet-Lagged Perspective

December 11, 2007

Airbus

Having just returned from a trans-Pacific journey involving 20+ hour flight times, I can now say that long, economy-class encapsulation has given me a new perspective on the relative qualities of ebook readers.

In preparation for the travel, I loaded up the iPhone, the Sony Reader and the MacBook Pro with titles. The choices I made among my reading devices are telling — notably missing is the X61T Tablet PC, since I didn’t want to haul a second laptop-sized machine in addition to my primary Mac. If you plan to travel with a laptop and you also want to use a tablet computer as an ebook reader, make sure those two machines are one in the same. iPhone world clockOtherwise, be prepared to consistently leave one of them behind (or risk a sore back). The iPhone came along by default, since I needed a phone and texting device. The laptop was optional, but I wanted to bring it along so I could process photographs on the road. The Sony almost stayed home, but its small footprint and low weight made it an easy last minute addition despite my already-overloaded messenger bag.

Even before getting on the plane, I knew I wouldn’t be using the Mac for reading purposes. With a battery life of just 2-4 hours (and aircraft power ports limited to Business Class), it had little chance of making it through even the short hops, much less the main ocean crossing. I saved it for computer-specific tasks.

The iPhone looked better on paper, given its multi-faceted functionality, long-ish battery life and its status as my current-favorite reader. Unfortunately, the iPhone’s current software shortcomings got in the way of using it for reading. The hack I use to access PDFs requires access to the Apache web server that I installed, but when the iPhone is in airplane mode, Mobile Safari is blocked from accessing the server. While I could still view the PDFs with either the Mobile Mail program or the third-party PDFViewer v0.3, neither method enables landscape viewing (necessary for readable text sizes without horizontal scrolling) and the latter is too immature to use reliably.

In the end, the Sony’s seemingly inexhaustible battery life made it the only useful device for reading on the long-duration flights. I easily fit my wife’s and my own reading choices on an SD card, with multiple titles for each of us (her primary read turned out to be Cat’s Cradle while I finished up Letters from St. Petersburg and started Some Sunny Day). Such an extended selection would have been impractical in print format. Unlike my last trip, however, I made no attempt to use an ebook travel guide, since the limited navigation and slow response on the Sony had previously proven useless for reference tasks. We lugged along an old-fashioned (and bulky) paper version of Lonely Planet Philippines instead.

The next time I need to cross an ocean, I’m looking forward to further advances in the state of the ebook reading art. While the Sony turned out to be a pretty workable solution, I’d ideally still prefer to carry a single device for all of my in-flight entertainment needs. With the iPhone software development kit promised for next February, its ebook software situation should be up to speed soon. Its fast and flexible interface would also enable Lonely Planet-style reference look-ups, which will allow me to leave that last heavy chunk of paper at home.

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Details on Amazon’s Kindle Reader (updated)

November 18, 2007

Newsweek cover on Amazon Kindle(updated with additional details from the Kindle User’s Guide)
Newsweek.com has posted a lengthy piece on ebooks and digital reading focusing on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the upcoming Kindle, entitled The Future of Reading.

Amongst prognostication about changes in the process of writing, distributing and reading books were a few facts about the Kindle:

display 6” E-Ink, 4 gray levels, 167 dpi
(like the Sony Reader)
weight 10.3 ounces
battery life 30 hours reading
2 hours recharge
storage 200 books onboard
additional via SD memory card
input keyboard, scroll wheel
connectivity EVDO cellphone-style broadband, USB2
Windows PC required for activation
file compatibility Kindle (.azw), unprotected Mobipocket (.mobi, .prc), HTML, text, MS Word (.doc), Audible (.aa), mp3
price $399

The wireless connectivity is used to connect to the Internet and the Amazon ebook store, where New York Times bestsellers and recent titles can be bought for $9.99, with older books priced lower. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions are also available.

Notably, the device cannot open Adobe PDF or any other common ebook formats, including DRM’d files from Amazon’s own Mobipocket ebook store.

The Kindle is a bold entry in the dedicated reader field, with the always-on wireless connection and periodical subscriptions being the most intriguing twists. Comparisons with the iPod/iTunes ecosystem are inevitable. However, unlike the iPod, which could support content from users’ existing cd and mp3 collections, book acquisition is limited to Amazon’s own Kindle store and existing personal documents such as Word files — ebooks from all other sources are essentially excluded. With a steep $399 entry price and a largely closed supply of content, it remains to be seen whether a mass market really exists for this device…

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A Personal Library for a Pixelated Future

September 24, 2007

a book dissolving into digital bitsFor the sake of argument, let’s say that the future of the book is cast — ebooks in some form will dominate, with paper books reserved for special works, as gifts and for hobbyist-collectors. Book stores and public libraries have already begun (or in the case of purely-digital stores like WOWIO, have already completed) the transformation from atoms to bits, and they will continue along their evolutionary paths paralleling those of the books.

But my wife — who has been using ebooks since her med school days in the 90s — brought up a good question the other night… what about our personal libraries? What will they look like once shelves lined with paper books become the exception? Today, guests can walk up to the book case to peruse the titles, whether to find entertainment, discover new titles or perhaps gain a little insight into the books’ owners. How does that work with a mostly-digital collection?

Part of the answer may be in front of us today, with iTunes and its shared media library. The software has already transformed the browsing and sharing patterns of mainstream music listeners, with its various visual and list-oriented browsing modes and its ability to share collections across a local network. This paradigm has spread to videos, audio books, podcasts and other media types as well. Even PDFs are partially supported. Extending the idea to full-blown ebooks is only a short stretch further, with listing options modified to support book-specific content.

iLibrary — the future of the personal book collection?

iTunes: one model for a future personal ebook and media library.
(click image to enlarge)

Extrapolating a bit further, all of the household’s books and other media could be shared on a primary household media machine with plenty of storage and a large, multi-touch screen for browsing or for more-focused use of music, video, games and the Internet. The ready access, sharable view and tactile experience would help retain the social and impulsive aspects of the book-browsing experience.

Casual page browsing in this scenario could be done on the large screen, but for serious reading, guests carrying iPhone-like devices could seamlessly join the local wireless network to access the household’s books (and other media). Alternatively, other types of devices in the household, like laptops or iSlates, could be borrowed for the purpose.

browsing the big-screen digital ebook library

Browsing the touch-enabled iLibrary.

This may sound suspiciously like a Microsoft fantasy home of the future. The difference is, aside from the big-screen touch interface, genuinely usable precursors of this concept are already in wide-spread use. Not just by those on the bleeding-edge, but by second-wave adopters like me.

streaming video from a central media server

House MD: from media library to kitchen.

I store music and video on a living room library machine — a relatively inexpensive Mac Mini connected to a big-screen HDTV — and access it wirelessly from other rooms on laptops and other devices. For example, the photo at right shows an iTunes-purchased episode of House MD streaming from the library Mini to a MacBook Pro in the kitchen as I cook dinner.

Even closer to the hypothetical scenario, I’ve also read ebook PDFs stored in the media library on an iPhone via OS X’s built-in Web sharing (this is a workaround for the iPhone’s current file system limitations which require somewhat kludgy hacks to store and access files directly on the iPhone).

All of this is done with no more technical knowledge than that required to set up a Wi-Fi network (a no-brainer with the Airport Express in my setup), along with the ability to use the simple sharing built into iTunes and the Mac.

So is this what a digital book library will look like? Will my mostly-linear extrapolation of existing technology be leap-frogged by something totally new?